U.S. beef exporters gain greater access to Thai market

Beef2Thailand agreed last week to lift most import restrictions on beef from the United States that had been imposed because of concerns over “mad cow disease,” as the government granted greater access to the Thai market for U.S. exporters, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

According to the new agreement, boneless and bone-in beef cuts from cattle, no matter their age, can now be exported to Thailand, provided that the cattle are processed on or after April 1. Previously, only boneless cuts from cattle under 30 months of age were eligible.

“Thailand enforced its boneless conditions with exceptional rigor,” said Joel Haggard, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) senior vice president for the Asia Pacific.“We can remember entire shipments of premium items being rejected based on the finding of a single millimeter-long chip. That’s hopefully behind us now, with the new rules allowing boneless and bone-in cuts.”

Thailand is not a major beef-eating country, although Thai people’s appetite for beef has been increasing, as has demand from expatriates and businesses serving the Kingdom’s huge tourism industry. In fact, Haggard said, Thailand is a world-renowned destination for food lovers, and food service operators want to sell American beef. “Importers are already sending pricing inquiries to our exporters for items such as bone-in short ribs and prime ribs,” he noted.

U.S. beef exports to Thailand totaled roughly $3 million in 2016, according to the USMEF. Haggard expects that the figure will now rise, but not dramatically.

“Like other Asian markets, we compete in the premium segment with Australian product that enjoys some preferential access there under a free trade deal. So, the market is likely to remain a small one for U.S. exporters,” he said.

Negotiations to further loosen restrictions are ongoing, Haggard added. “Beef variety meat and offal products,” are still ineligible for import into Thailand he said.

The world consumed 129.5 billion pounds of beef in 2016.  Surprisingly, Hong Kong was the world’s third largest consumer of beef per year per capita last year, edging out the U.S. in the fourth place, while Uruguay and Argentina finished first and second. Thailand was not in the top 50 countries for beef consumers.

Thais consume far more pork, chicken and fish than beef, as is typical of most countries across Asia and the Pacific.

The Thai government has been taking steps to build up the domestic beef industry, as it does not meet local demand, even though Thailand exports cattle to neighboring countries in the Mekong sub-region.